Sunday, October 4, 2015

Can We Justify "The Jinx"?

It's now been over six months since the finale of Andrew Jarecki's crime documentary miniseries, "The Jinx," aired its final controversial episode.  It feels a little silly to warn for spoilers, but on the off chance that someone reading this hasn't heard about what happened to Robert Durst, now would be the time to go and watch "The Jinx," which is an excellent crime documentary by every conceivable measure, before upcoming events inevitably spoil all of its surprises.  For the rest of us who are more well-informed, I feel enough time has passed that we can talk about the actions of the documentarians and the fallout from the broadcast and surrounding events.

I don't know if this is the first time that the news media has spoiled a television show, but the collision between Jarecki's miniseries and the unfolding events of the Robert Durst arrest on March 15th created one of the biggest television events of the year.  I'd never heard of Robert Durst, but suddenly he was all over the news, and at the center of a furious debate about the extent to which it was permissible for documentary filmmakers to insert themselves into the events they were documenting.  Jarecki's not the first to have done his own investigating for the sake of the film.  Heck, "The Jinx" isn't even his first work about a criminal case.  "Capturing the Friedmans," made a decade ago, seemed to throw a pair of child molestation convictions into doubt, though Jarecki was criticized for misleading editing and other tricks to make his film more suspenseful and entertaining.  Many of the same criticisms have been levied against his work on "The Jinx," where several events didn't play out the way the series suggests that they did.

I finally got a chance to marathon the six-part series this week, and it's a knockout piece of entertainment.  I can't speak to its overall veracity, but "The Jinx" offers the tantalizing chance to hear Robert Durst have his say about the various crimes that he may have played a part in over the years.   Durst is absolutely fascinating to watch, and the show's biggest asset.  I have absolutely no qualms about the first four episodes, which explore each of the three murders Durst has been connected to.  I especially enjoyed the fourth episode, where the case against Durst for murdering an elderly neighbor falls apart in spectacular fashion during the trial.  It's a riveting look at how money and privilege can tip the scales of justice, even in the most egregious cases.  The last two episodes, however, raise an awful lot of questions.  Suddenly we're not simply watching a profile of Durst, but the documentary team's efforts to nail him based on evidence that they've independently uncovered.  And this builds to that holiest of holy grails in any true crime documentary - getting an apparent confession on tape.

The ending is amazing, but at what cost?  Jarecki's team insist that they turned over all their evidence to the authorities long before "The Jinx" aired, but is any of it admissible in court now?  If Durst was able to beat a murder charge despite admitting that he dismembered the corpse, the new trial will be a cakewalk.  Think of all the ammunition his defense will have this time, provided by a documentary crew known for muddling some very basic facts.  If there's anything that "The Jinx" made clear, it's that Robert Durst is a disturbed individual with way too many resources at his disposal.  Jarecki's actions and all the media attention may have gotten him locked up, but I'm worried that the process was tampered with too greatly to keep him there.  And I keep coming back to the lead-up to that final interview, where the sequence of events was entirely fabricated.  Why include the later arrest for violating the restraining order at all?  The interview was plenty suspenseful without pretending that Jarecki's cooperation with Durst's lawyers had anything to do with it.  What else did Jarecki invent or enhance or tweak to suit his own ends?

Too much of "The Jinx" reminded me of a documentary that Andrew Jarecki did not direct, but did produce: "Catfish."  To date, nobody is clear on what was real, fake, or recreated in that film, but it was a smaller personal story and the stakes weren't nearly as high as they are here.  The integrity of "The Jinx" seems fundamentally compromised, and its conclusions therefore untrustworthy.  I'm very interested in the legal ramifications for Robert Durst, and the possible consequences for Andrew Jarecki.  Ultimately "The Jinx" is one heck of a miniseries - but a terribly flawed documentary.


No comments:

Post a Comment